The Washington Huskies looked great in their season-opening blowout win over the Boise State Broncos, but they face a much greater challenge in Week 3. Steve Sarkisian will take the Dawgs east to Chicago to take on a better-than-expected Illinois Fighting Illini who sit at 2-0 after whipping the Cincinnati Bearcats in Week 2. The biggest reason for their success is the resurgent play of quarterback Nathan Scheelhaase who poses a serious challenge to the Washington defense this Saturday.
Through two games this season, Scheelhaase has been a dynamic playmaker that has shredded opposing defenses. He’s completing 74 percent of his passes, averaging 10.6 yards per attempt as he’s amassed 728 yards passing with six touchdowns and only one interception. New Illini offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has found a way to get Scheelhaase dialed in and it has resulted in six different players with plays of 30 yards or more in the first two games.
In Week 1, Washington did an excellent job of frustrating and disrupting Boise State’s quarterback, Joe Southwick, who finished 2012 as one of the hottest quarterbacks in the country. In the new Husky Stadium, however, he was stymied, completing 25-of-40 passes for only 152 yards with no touchdowns and an interception. Southwick wasn’t nearly as athletic as Scheelhaase, however, meaning it will be even more difficult for the UW pass rush to get to him.
That could turn into a serious issue. Washington came into 2013 looking to improve their pass rush, yet got no pressure in their opener against Boise State. They recorded zero sacks and zero quarterback pressures, yet were still able to contain the Broncos’ offense thanks to the stellar play of their linebackers and secondary. If Scheelhaase is afforded the same amount of time and given the opportunity to read the field, the Huskies could find it much more difficult to keep the Illini off the scoreboard.
The pressure will be on the defensive line and end Josh Shirley to create that pressure. The defense could also unleash some blitz packages with Shaq Thompson to manufacture the pressure if the front four aren’t getting the job done, but they will have to worry about leaving themselves open to the big play. Scheelhaase is a playmaker that is looking poised to punish defenses for leaving guys open this season. Cornerback Marcus Peters and the rest of the Husky secondary will have their hands full staying with their receivers as Scheelhaase extends plays with his athleticism.
If Washington hopes to prove that they are for real in 2013, taking care of business on the road against Illinois is a major priority. To avoid the letdown after a spectacular start to the season, they’ll need to contain Nathan Scheelhaase. If they can’t, all their positive momentum from the season opener will be lost and this Washington team will face the questions of whether they can get past their 7-win ceiling this year.